On-line Personal Finance Showdown

Posted by Tejus Parikh on August 4, 2008

Something that I find incredible tedious and boring is managing money. My philosophy is that if I wanted to look at numbers all day, then I would have become an accountant or an applied mathematician. Thankfully, I have a wonderful wife that keeps me debt-free and makes sure the bills get paid on time. However, even she struggles when it comes to getting a bearing on our entire financial outlook, a struggle that compelled us to join Wesabe when it first launched. We’ve been casual users since joining, but this morning we decided to give the better hyped Mint a shot. This is my rundown from using both services.

Wesabe

I started using Wesabe a few weeks before Mint’s big launch at the Techcrunch 40. We’d always gut feel that we were spending too much on eating out or electronic gadgets, but the actual numbers were hard to find. Wesabe gave us deep insight into how our money was being spent by allow us to tag each transaction. For instance, Wesabe can tell you exactly how much money you spent on tacos last month, if you tag your transactions right. The other big feature of Wesabe is the focus on community generated content and suggestions. The system tracks your tags and transactions and suggests tips that you might find beneficial. It also has discussion forums where people talk and trade tips about personal finance. Wesabe isn’t perfect. Until recently, you had to us a relatively flakey desktop uploader to keep your information in sync. The site now includes on online uploader, but in keeping with the teams (quite understandable) paranoia, they only use banking interfaces they have written themselves. Unfortunately this means that most banks still require a manual upload, thereby reducing the usefulness of central account tracking. The other major drawback is Wesabe does not support loans or brokerage accounts. This wasn’t a big deal when we signed-up, since all we had was a checking account and some credit cards. A lot has changed since then and our personal finances have gotten far more complex and Wesabe’s inability to track these accounts have made it almost useless.

Mint

That force us to take the plunge with Mint. Mint’s interface is super slick. Not only are there fun ajax-y effects, but it’s functional, too. Adding your accounts to auto-refresh is simple and trivial. Mint supported every account where we have online access, right out of the box. With that, we get a dashboard that shows exactly where our money is (or isn’t). What required 8 visits in the morning (most of which never happened), is now a 30 second activity. A time-saver and reality dose all at once. Even better, once it loaded my transactions it matched them against similar transactions and automatically labeled each one. I spent hours tagging transactions in Wesabe. Mint leveraged the power of the community to categorize everything for me. It’s such a good idea, it’s hard to believe nobody did it before (and that Wesabe doesn’t do it now). Both services have neat charts, but Mint’s got one that compares your spending habits to people that live in your area allowing you to see where actually are in relation to the Jones’. Also compared to Wesabe, Mint’s site is far more responsive. Pages load fast on Mint, but Wesabe feels like it’s running on the Twitter infrastructure. However, Mint’s a beta product and crowds aren’t perfect. The transaction for my wife’s tag (license plate for you non-Georgians) was categorized as a Doctor’s expense, which left me scratching my head for a bit. Some of the interface is a little quirky and un-intuitive. The way multi-select works, for example, is just weird. The spending chart that fascinated me earlier doesn’t account for household size, making it all but useless. But these are small issues compared to the vast benefit the service provides.

The Bottom Line

It would seem that Mint is the hands down winner and it is, with one caveat. It integrates with more types of accounts, it takes less time to set-up, the site is more responsive, the interface is slicker, etc. If your time to budget is tight, Mint is the way to go. It’ll get you much farther, faster than any other solution that I’ve seen. The Caveat? If you’re willing to spend the time to diligently track each transaction, Wesabe is a far more compelling service. It’s ‘savings tips’ aren’t just advertisements in disguise. Mint tells me to switch banks and credit cards. Wesabe tells me to split portions and order lunch entrees to save money. Mint tells me how much I spent on restaurants. Wesabe tells me that I spent more on Pizza than Mexican. Mint feels like a utility, Wesabe a community. I really like those things about Wesabe and am going to miss them. A personal finance tool needs to be able to manage your finances and today the tool that does that is Mint.

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Tejus Parikh

Tejus is an software developer, now working at large companies. Find out when I write new posts on twitter, via RSS or subscribe to the newsletter: